This winter brought more than snow days and frigid temperatures; it also brought Norfolk its very first food forest! Northside Civic League, with help from 50 volunteers and Coaster Coffee, planted six trees, two shrubs, and 14 fruit vines at Mary Calcott Elementary in December, completing phase 1 of the food forest.
Northside Civic League received a $2,000 Block by Block Neighborhood Pride grant to implement its impressive proposal for a “rain retention food forest” at the elementary school. The Office of Resilience and Department of Neighborhood Development offered the grant this past fall as part of a Retain Your Rain Pilot project to install parcel-level green infrastructure. This pilot is part of the Retain Your Rain initiative, which seeks to engage Norfolk residents in a city-wide, systemic approach to water management.
Food forests are a type of rain retention garden. Their multi-canopy structure is designed to absorb rainwater where it falls. Norfolk’s new food forest will absorb over 3,000 gallons of stormwater, helping reduce localized flooding that the school regularly deals with on the corner of Evans Street.
In addition to stormwater retention benefits, the food forest will also increase the city’s tree canopy; produce fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and herbs; and provide the neighborhood access to fresh food, educational opportunities, and community gathering space for years to come.
The food forest is a truly collaborative project. Over the course of a few months, Northside Civic League worked with the Office of Resilience; Department of Public Works; Recreation, Parks, and Open Space; Keep Norfolk Beautiful; Virginia Cooperative Extension; Norfolk Botanical Garden; and the Therapeutic Recreation Center. Together, they designed the food forest, organized a community forum and hosted the winter planting event.
The civic league also partnered with local restaurants to feed the planting volunteers, treating them to pizza and burritos after a morning of planting fruit trees, shrubs and vines. The fruit trees themselves will eventually produce natural foods, including plums, figs, pawpaws, persimmons and pomegranates.
The food forest design below shows the different phases of the food forest. Phase two is expected to be implemented this spring, with volunteers planting kiwi and grape vines that are currently being stored at Norfolk Botanical Garden, a pecan tree, and other herbs and flowering plants.
In the third and final phase, an ADA-compliant outdoor classroom will be incorporated into the food forest for students at Mary Calcott Elementary and members of the Therapeutic Recreation Center. This classroom will provide invaluable opportunities for students, therapeutic recreation center members, and neighbors to connect with nature. Additionally, the classroom is expected to boost students’ Standards of Learning scores.
We are impressed by Northside Civic League’s remarkable leadership in building neighborhood resilience through this project. We look forward to seeing this food forest project not only come to fruition, but also literally bear fruit!
To get involved in the project, email Jen Stringer, Project Leader at firstname.lastname@example.org.